Resources For Responding to The Da Vinci Code Movie

Thursday, May 3rd 2007
May/Jun 2006

Interview with Peter Jones, co-author of Cracking Da Vinci's Code: You've Read the Fiction, Now Read the Facts.

WHI: We're talking with Peter Jones, adjunct professor at Westminster Seminary California and also the co-author of Cracking Da Vinci's Code. Peter, it's great, as always, to be able to talk about these things.PJ: Good to be with you.

WHI: The question that I think a lot of people are wondering right now is why six or seven million copies of The Da Vinci Code have been sold. Why do you think it's so popular?PJ: It may even be 9 million at this point, plus the movie that will come out next year, so, I mean, it is an incredible phenomenon. It seems to me that it is popular because of the fascination in our time of an ultimate form of Christianity that is fitting very much with the nature of our modern culture.

WHI: But what do you say to the critic who says: "This is fiction. This is just a novel. People are just enjoying it…"?PJ: No, that's a fair enough critique and it's for that reason that when I was asked to write the book and there were sort of forces that were saying, we need to take this on historically and so on, I said, listen: this is a fictional book… But all of fiction, it seems to me – Lord of the Rings, Lewis's fiction, and what-not – has a message. There is an ideology. And it was that that I wanted to write about. I mean, there were some historical enormities that one needed to point out, but I didn't want to become a Dan Brown groupie, become an expert on Leonardo da Vinci, and the Knights Templar, and the Holy Grail and all that stuff, though it is absolutely fascinating. I mean, he's putting his finger into stuff that really did exist. There is such a thing as Western paganism. And that's part of the big issue, by the way. That's, I think, the approach you have to take with this book. I don't think you can simply take some kind of irate approach and say it's all historical bunk and so on and so forth – it is a fictional book. Does that make it less dangerous in terms of the ultimate message? Not at all. It's even more powerful.

WHI: And that is actually how it's been taken, isn't it? A lot of people are treating it as a debunking of Christianity, and there are rather straightforward historical claims that don't sound all that fiction-like.PJ: No, and they're easy to show, and it's interesting that the radical left of New Testament studies has quickly wanted to point that out, and so create a little island where they can stand where they are not lumped with Dan Brown, even though, I have to say, his approach certainly builds upon that radical left's affirmation of all kinds of things about early Christianity. But they, too, have debunked some of his story, his historical statements.

WHI: Of course, you're referring to especially the Jesus Seminar: John Dominic Crossan, Elaine Pegels, and others who have talked about this suppressed tradition of Gnosticism. What is Gnosticism and did the early church suppress this? How did we get the canon that we have, that is, the number of biblical books that we have? Was it imperial power that kept these gnostic luminaries from being able to get their books in the Bible?PJ: All in five minutes? It's probably the most difficult question I've ever been asked in my life. No – it's just a very broad question, obviously: What is Gnosticism? It is the reinterpretation of Christianity in terms of essentially pagan notions about the world. It is the attempt to reinterpret Christian orthodoxy on the basis of a view of the spirituality of the world that I can only call pagan. And that is to say, it is a rejection of God the Creator and therefore a rejection of the whole structure of biblical faith, which is, to use a technical term, theistic, that God is indeed separate from his creation and has his own existence, and acts first of all to create the world and then to redeem it. That whole structure is eliminated by so-called Christian Gnostics. You see, the approach of Gnosticism is absolutely radical. It's not a heresy; it's a profound apostasy.

WHI: And it trades on Christianity doesn't it? It's sort of an anti-Christianity in terms of telling, of radically taking the same symbols of Christianity and radically interpreting them.PJ: And so it is very subtle for a lot of people, and especially since the discovery of the Gnostic texts in 1945 in Egypt. And the decision by a group of radical New Testament scholars to promote this stuff, first of all for the good of mankind generally just to get the information out, and that wasn't bad, but it has since turned into a whole ideology of proposing that the "Gospel of Thomas" is the earliest gospel, along with Q, that we have, predating the New Testament. And that is why, it seems to me, this "Da Vinci Code" rewrites how we do evangelism in our day, how we witness to the Christian faith, because it doesn't end around what we've so often done in our witness, which is to say, "But the Bible says…" And now people can say, "Yes, the Bible says that, but of course the Bible isn't the ultimate source for Christianity." And so Christian witness becomes a lot more subtle in that sense; you have to know how to be able to show how the Bible really is the ultimate source for Christianity, and that this Gnosticism is a latecomer.

WHI: That's being increasingly shown, isn't it? That the "Gospel of Thomas," for instance, isn't anywhere close to the dating of Paul's epistles, for instance.PJ: Well it depends who you read, of course. The radical left is still quite convinced…

WHI: So is part of this to shape the idea, "We don't like the New Testament canon that we have." Sort of the impulse of the Gnostics and Marcion who said, "Let's just create our own canon and get rid of the checks and balances of an ultimate authority."PJ: You mentioned Marcion. I've recently done some thinking on him, so you have a hot scope here. You know, this claim that the church suppressed the Gospel of Thomas and all these Gnostic texts when it finally created a canon much later, and that the church was forced into this by Marcion who was most interested in canons. Marcion wanted a non-orthodox canon. All the liberals have said this for years. If Marcion is interested in canon, and he is in Rome around 150 when he is ex-communicated, if he is establishing a canon, why does he not suggest to put in his canon the Gospel of Thomas? Marcion makes no mention of the Gospel of Thomas. He makes no mention of the gospel of truth which was known in Rome around that period, and would have been to his perfect advantage. He is obliged to deform the Gospel of Luke and keep that as the only gospel, by getting rid of all references to the Old Testament. That's his only source for a kind of a Gnosticism that he can produce. If the Gospel of Thomas was so early, why on earth did Marcion not use the Gospel of Thomas? It's a question that demands an answer from the liberal wing and I don't think they give one.

WHI: Now how about the theology of Gnosticism?PJ: Well the theology of Gnosticism is sort of a Christianized form of, as I said, this pagan view of the world which is that nature is divine. The Apostle Paul gives the best definition: it's the worship of the creation rather than the Creator. You have beautifully juxtaposed theism and paganism. So if the world is divine, and is an emanation of the divine spirit, then we're all partakers of the divine and sharing in the spirit. And so to know redemption, we really need to simply discover who we actually are, and we do that through mystical experiences, spiritual technologies… You can find in paganism all over the world and all kinds of cults and groups these various techniques for establishing a kind of out-of-body experience, where one rediscovers the self as divine, in contact with all things. Gnosticism, then, is this sophisticated, Christianized form of that, and it does give to people the same kind of an experience.

WHI: To use God, not worship him?PJ: Actually, there is no God. One is god. And so the whole notion of worship becomes self-worship; the notion of praise becomes self-praise, the notion of prayer becomes meditation…

WHI: So what's "salvation" in the Gnostic view?PJ: Salvation is simply coming to understand who one is. Enlightenment. It's knowledge – gnosis. You actually have to wonder in the end, why even bother, because if everything is divine anyway, why we even worry about that, but be that as it may, there is this experience of gnosis, of knowing the self is divine, which does transform people, there's no doubt about it.

WHI: Sounds a lot like popular American religion. B. Dalton, Waldenbooks…PJ: Absolutely. It sounds a lot like Eastern religions, too. It's certainly like spiritualities that depend upon drugs and all kinds of techniques.

WHI: SO is this new gnosticism directly dependent on the gnostic texts and the discovery of the Gnostic texts in 1945, or is it a sort of "Beatles generation" now in control of the various institutions they once despised, and they have this sort of eastern religious, eastern philosophical orientation that Gnosticism sort of is handy for?PJ: You have this explosion and fascination of eastern mysticism, at the same time as the discovery of the Gnostic texts, and so the first movement, of course, is to go east, and so the hippies are off to Katmandu, and they're taking drugs and so on, they go east and they discover a sort of enlightenment that doesn't do damage to their bodies, and now all of a sudden, they didn't need to go east at all, because we have a form of Christianity that justifies all this inner search for enlightenment, and so you have this serendipitous coming together of a whole lot of things, but it's interesting that this spiritual enlightenment preceded the discovery and rehabilitation of the Gnostic texts in the west.

WHI: How about the "Gospel of Philip?" The Gospel of Thomas we hear a lot about, but the Gospel of Philip figures prominently in The Da Vinci Code. Tell us about that gospel and how it's used by Brown.PJ: Well, it's the most interesting gospel in a certain sense. The "Gospel of Philip" is the gospel where Jesus is supposed to kiss Mary Magdalene on the lips, and so you have this whole interest in sexuality as spirituality coming out of the Gospel of Philip. Now, Brown bases pretty much everything on the Gospel of Philip. The sad thing for his thesis, if he wants to say that this was the original spirituality and the original Jesus, is that the editor of the Nag-Hammadi text of the Gospel of Philip himself dates the Gospel of Philip to, at the earliest, 250 A.D. – a little late for original Christianity. I have seen no example anywhere of anyone succeeding in dating Philip earlier than that. So, if you like, The Da Vinci Code in its essence is being based on a third century document.

WHI: Remarkable. Well, he also says, doesn't he, that early Judaism had both the Father God in the temple, but also the shekinah – female – glory as a feminine concept. And, in actual fact, correct me if I'm wrong, that comes from Kabbalahism, Jewish Kabbalahism, which is an medieval Jewish movement.PJ: Absolutely. We don't really know how old Kabbalahism is, of course; it came into prominence in the Middle Ages, and there are all kind of books being written these days on all kinds of stuff.

WHI: Well, if Madonna becomes it, there are always going to be books written about it!PJ: Well, I am reading weird stuff now on freemasonry that finds its way back to the temple of Solomon, and even further back to Isis and Osiris, and so on, and Kabbalah's mixed into all that. We're really living in a time of great speculation about these spiritual things, but to nail down this particular issue of the Gospel of Philip, you know, there is no evidence of that kind of spirituality in the Christian church prior to that.

WHI: So it's not a matter of historical record.PJ: Not in that case, I would say. He has a long way to go to defend the historicity of Jesus in a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene, which is what he really affirms. People say that Jesus was married. I don't think that's what Brown is saying. Brown is saying that it's essential for Christianity – though he doesn't use that term as such – that we understand the spirituality of the sex act. He's not at all defending marriage.

WHI: Thank you for being with us. PJ: You're welcome. Thank you.


The Da Vinci Code: From Dan Brown's Fiction to Mary Magdalene's Faith
by Garry WilliamsChristian Focus Press, 200662 pages (booklet), $3.99

This booklet outlines and counters seven historical claims that Brown makes about the Bible and Jesus Christ, offers a brief account of the reliability of the Gospels, and explains that Jesus Christ is Saviour and Lord through the eyes of Mary Magdalene as a witness of the cross and resurrection. It is written to help Christians who have questions, but especially for Christians to give to non-Christian friends who have read the book and are interested. It is designed to be shorter and more accessible than the longer responses, but more substantial than a magazine article or a web posting.

Cracking Da Vinci's Code: You've Read the Fiction, Now Read the Facts
by James Garlow and Peter JonesVictor, April 2004 (reprint)256 pages (paperback), $14.99 (also available in audio formats)

Was Jesus merely human and not divine? Did Jesus and Mary Magdalene marry and have children? Is there a Holy Grail? If so, what is it and where can it be found? Cracking Da Vinci's Code provides the answers to these and other questions that may have troubled you or readers you know. Authors James L. Garlow and Peter Jones present compelling evidence that Brown's assertions are not only historically inaccurate, but may also contain a hidden agenda.

Cracking Da Vinci's Code: You've Read the Fiction, Now Read the Facts
by James Garlow and Peter JonesVictor, November 2005108 pages (booklet), $3.99

Breaking the Da Vinci Code: Answers to the Questions Everyone's Asking
by Darrell L. Bock Nelson Books, April 2004208 pages (hardback), $19.99

Many who have read the New York Times bestseller The Da Vinci Code have questions that arise from seven codes-expressed or implied-in Dan Brown's book. In Breaking the Da Vinci Code: Answers to the Questions Everyone's Asking, Darrell Bock, Ph.D., responds to the novelist's claims using central ancient texts and answers the following questions: Who was Mary Magdalene? Was Jesus married? Would Jesus being single be un-Jewish? Do the so-called secret Gnostic Gospels help us understand Jesus? What is the remaining relevance of The Da Vinci Code?
Darrell Bock's research uncovers the origins of these codes by focusing on the 325 years immediately following the birth of Christ, for the claims of The Da Vinci Code rise or fall on the basis of things emerging from this period. Breaking the Da Vinci Code, now available in trade paper, distinguishes fictitious entertainment from historical elements of the Christian faith. For by seeing these differences, one can break the Da Vinci Code.

White Horse Inn radio broadcasts
"Faith, History, and The Da Vinci Code" Original air date: March 20, 2005Featuring an interview with Paul Maier, co-author of The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction
"Christianity: A Faith Founded on Fact"Original air date: April 16, 2006Featuring an interview with John Warwick Montgomery, author of History and Christianity. In addition to discussing the historical reliability of the gospels, this program also evaluates the Da Vinci Code thesis as well as the Gnostic Gospels.

The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction
by Hank Hanegraaff and Paul L. MaierTyndale House Publishers, May 2004 96 pages (paperback), $4.99

People are talking. The Da Vinci Code has been on the New York Times best-seller list for almost a year and is raising a variety of responses from Christians and non-Christians alike. Some are outraged and upset by the claims of Dan Brown, while others are left utterly confused and don't know what to believe. The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction? explodes the myths of the book and shows the reliability of Scripture, the divinity of Christ, as well as the historical facts for the Priory of Zion and the Knights Templar. This is the only hands-on accessible reference guide. The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction? helps you turn debate about the book into an evangelistic opportunity.

Deciphering the Da Vinci Code
An episode of "Speaking of Faith" with Krista Tippett (aired on NPR stations), public radio's weekly conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas.This program is available online at:

The New Testament has entered the American imagination with a tantalizing spin. The best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code, has invigorated popular curiosity but also suspicion about the biblical anthology by reimagining it, in part, as a cover-up. As more Americans read the book, they have been turning to their churches for explanation. For if the novel's premises are true, much of what they learned in Sunday School was deception. Host Krista Tippett focuses on gathering a basic picture of what really happened in the fluid early years of Christianity. Why were some of the books early Christians read included in the Bible while others were left out? How did it happen that modern Christians inherited an erroneous view of women in the early church, including Mary Magdalene?

Unlocking Da Vinci's Code- The Full Story
The National Geographic Channel (ABC News Productions), written and hosted by Elizabeth Vargas.Original air date: December 19, 2004.Check out future airings of this well-produced documentary at:

Featured interviews include Dan Brown; Ellen McBreen, Ph.D.; Darrell L. Bock, Ph.D.; Father Richard P. McBrien; Paul L Maier, Ph.D.; Professor Elaine Pagels, Ph.D.; Jeffrey Bingham, Ph.D.; Professor Karen King, Ph.D.; Margaret Starbird; Rev Robin Griffith-Jones; Jack Wasserman, Ph.D.; Carlo Pedretti, Ph.D.; Henry Lincoln; Umberto Eco; Helen Nicholson; Dr. Niven Sinclair; Andrew Sinclair.

Thursday, May 3rd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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